Category Archives: Strategy

Do you have the 10 critical talents?

Entrepreneurial thinking and doing are the most important capabilities companies need from their employees.  As the competitive pace increases, it becomes more and more critical.  ~Reid Hoffman

Here’s just one example of competitive pace. Who would have thought 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, that we could order something online and expect it to arrive the same day? That competitive pace necessitates entrepreneurial thinking, throughout organizations, not just at the top.

Reid Hoffman wrote, “Entrepreneurial employees possess what eBay CEO John Donahoe calls the founder mind-set.  As he put it to us, ‘People with the founder mind-set drive change, motivate people, and just get stuff done.’”

Gallup has studied this phenomenon in more detail and published the book Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder to help all of us better understand exactly what we are looking for and why it’s hard to find it. Gallup reported:

The single most important factor for America’s economic survival remains as mysterious as life on Mars.  But maybe that’s because it’s so unusual. Preliminary Gallup research discovered that high entrepreneurial talent is much rarer than high IQ: Only about five in 1,000 people have the aptitude for starting and growing a big business. In comparison, 20 in 1,000 have IQs high enough to be accepted into Mensa.

The 10 talents of successful entrepreneurs are:

Business Focus: You make decisions based on observed or anticipated effect on profit.

Confidence: You accurately know yourself and understand others.

Creative Thinker: You exhibit creativity in taking an existing idea or product and turning it into something better.

Delegator: You recognize that you cannot do everything and are willing to contemplate a shift in style and control.

Determination: You persevere through difficult, even seemingly insurmountable, obstacles.

Independent: You are prepared to do whatever needs to be done to build a successful venture.

Knowledge Seeker: You constantly search for information that is relevant to growing your business.

Promoter: You are the best spokesperson for the business.

Relationship-Builder: You have high social awareness and an ability to build relationships that are beneficial for the firm’s survival and growth.

Risk-Taker: You instinctively know how to manage high-risk situations.

We may not be lucky enough to be one of the five out of a 1,000 to possess all 10 talents. Gallup says to increase your likelihood of success, identify strategies to manage areas of weakness, or acquire skills and knowledge to deal with your lesser talents. Or best of all, form partnerships with people who have a different set of entrepreneurial talents.

In the old economy, efficiency was the cardinal virtue. In the new economy of fierce competition and rapid technological change with markets constantly shifting, entrepreneurial thinking is the new gold standard.

Enough really is, enough!

Enough is a wide and stable plateau. It is a place of alertness, creativity, and freedom.  ~Vicki Robin & Joe Dominguez

We’ve been trained, or maybe programmed, to believe that organizations must always be in a state of “growth.”  Organizations espouse visions of grander size, grander revenues, grander market share, anything and everything “grander.”  But to what end?

I was rereading a book that has nothing to do with organizations entitled Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin & Joe Dominguez and came across the statement that I used for today’s quote. “Enough is a wide and stable plateau. It is a place of alertness, creativity, and freedom.”

When I read that quote it occurred to me that most organizations (and leaders) I work with would love to be at a place of “alertness, creativity, and freedom.” But most organizations are trying to get to that place by growth, not by pursuing enough.

Robin and Dominguez continue with these thoughts about growth and limits.

There are limits in nature. At a physical level, nothing grows forever. Every plant and every animal reaches an optimal size and then begins mature function, participating in life—leafing, fruiting, responding to stimuli and providing nourishment and competition for other forms of life around it. There always comes a point where the individual or the specific population either collapses or dies off due to lack of resources, or stabilizes at a level that the environment can handle.

Imagine an organization’s vision that sounded something like, “to stabilize at a level that the environment can handle.” In other words, champion a vision to sustain a wide and stable plateau for many years.

Now and then I truly believe that some organizational leaders turn to growth as a vision out of fear. Fear that “enough” is a proposition fraught with more risk than a vision of growth. After all, how can growth be risky? Well, I think that Robin and Dominguez’ statement holds true for organizations. That “there always comes a point where the [organization] either collapses or dies off due to lack of resources [which in this case could be customers or capital], or stabilizes at a level that the environment can handle.”

“Enough” as an organizational vision: a vision that results in alertness, creativity, and freedom— certainly sounds appealing to me.


Want to achieve more, rethink what you’re measuring.

What we measure gets improved. ~Peter Drucker

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Charles Dickens may have been onto something about measuring in the 21st century way back in mid-1800s. With the plethora of information, tools, and technology, we can figure out how to measure just about anything—the best of times. But with so much to measure, are we measuring the right things that will truly enable us to achieve more—the worst of times.

Before I jump into measuring, I want to define some terms. I’ve found the definitions for a goal, lag measure, and lead measure in the book The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling to be quite helpful.

GOAL (from X to Y by when): Decrease total body weight from 190 to 175 pounds by May 30.

LAG MEASURE (ultimate measure of success): Weight on the bathroom scale.

What activities can I measure to track my progress in this situation?

LEAD MEASURE (predictive of achieving the goal and that you can influence): A) reduce calories consumed, and B) increase calories burned.

These two measures (calories consumed and calories burned) strongly indicate if you’ll lose weight (note, strongly indicate not guarantee), and they are directly influenceable by you. Unfortunately, leaders spend most of their time fixated on lag measures, even though you can’t directly affect them.

Lag measures tend to be more visible and easier to define and obtain. As an example, it’s easy to measure your weight, just step on the scale. However, measuring the number of calories consumed and calories burned, every day, not as easy and requires discipline. But isn’t that how we really lose weight?

It’s easy for someone in sales to tally the number of sales for the month (lag measure), or for a fundraiser to total the number of dollars raised last quarter (lag measure). Lag measures tend to be the response to “What does success look like?” Don’t’ get me wrong, we need lag measures; they point the direction. But achieving those lag measures happens because we know what lead measures will significantly increase the odds of actual achievement of our goal.

I believe that understanding and focusing on lead measures can determine the difference between someone being promoted or overlooked, or an organization that moves forward or remains stagnant.

This is a significant reason why, I think, the majority of strategic plans fail, or at least never gain any traction. We determine goals (lag measures), and then develop a “to-do list” of objectives. But the objectives many times are not directly tied to lead measures. It takes time, and effort, to determine the best lead measures, especially in an era when we have the tools and technology to measure almost anything.

Consequently, we become either impatient or complacent and just start “doing,” assuming that our goals will be achieved. In my experience, those individuals and organizations who achieve their goals, are those who first do the hard, taxing work of asking and identifying lead measures: “What activities can I measure to track our progress in this situation?

Want to achieve more, re-think what you’re measuring.

Are you strategic, or just efficient?

Strategy is about being different. It means deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value. ~Michael Porter

I have found that while the idea of strategy sounds intriguing to many, turning strategy into reality is far more challenging. It becomes easy to start listing what you currently do, and then assume that’s your “strategy.” You might also identify how efficiently you manage your operations and assume that’s your “strategy.”

Michael Porter is the quintessential expert on strategy. The words that Porter emphasizes when he defines strategy are different and unique.

Porter says “the root of the problem is to distinguish between operational effectiveness and strategy.”  Things like productivity, quality, speed, customer satisfaction, benchmarks, outcomes, and best practices have created entire industries of tools and techniques, all very helpful for a well-run organization. However, that isn’t strategy.

You might be asking, if operational effectiveness means a well-run organization, then why is strategy even necessary? Here’s where I think leaders in the for-profit sector could learn from the leaders in the nonprofit sector. Nonprofit experts Steve Zimmerman and Jeanne Bell said, “sustainability lies at the intersection of exceptional impact and financial viability.” I would argue that all organizations (nonprofit and for-profit) will discover that intersection through strategy not through efficient operations.

The basic premise of strategy that Porter outlines, I believe, could apply to organizations of any type or size, and even to individuals. Looking for a new job? Consider how you might describe yourself differently in a job interview if you were being strategic.

Here are Porter’s three key principles that underlie strategy.

  1. Create a unique and valuable position.
    • Serving few needs of many
    • Serving broad needs of few
    • Serving broad needs of many in a narrow market
  2. Choose what not to do.
    • Some activities are incompatible. Gains in one area can be achieved only at the expense of another area.
  3. Create “fit” among the organization’s activities.
    • Fit drives sustainability: when activities mutually reinforce each other, competitors can’t easily imitate them.

3 Questions to Test Your Strategy

  • What unique value do you offer/provide?
  • Is it clear what you are choosing not to do?
  • Do the activities (products, programs, services, delivery systems, staffing, etc.) fit together and reinforce each other?